Tax Increase Alerts

KCTA calls on Grand Rapids city leaders to avoid the appearance of impropriety

KCTA_logo_2014-01Today the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance called on Grand Rapids city leaders to take a stand against the appearance of impropriety in regards to the upcoming city income tax increase election on May 6. According to an article in the Grand Rapids Press, the campaign urging a “yes” vote is largely funded by private companies that appear set to gain significant revenue from the city if the tax increase passes.

“We believe that the Grand Rapids city commission should stand up and show that they reject any appearance of impropriety by passing a resolution barring any company that contributes to their tax increase campaign from bidding on city projects that result from the tax increase,” said Eric Larson, spokesperson of the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance.

Of the over $23,000 that the “yes” campaign has raised, nearly two thirds was raised from companies that appear to stand to directly benefit from the city’s proposed spending plan, including construction, lobbying, and engineering firms.

“Millions of dollars of spending is on the line,” said Larson, “and it’s only right for city leaders to distance themselves from appearing to reward those who donate to political campaigns. Taxpayers need to be confident that the process isn’t corrupted.”

KCTA also notes that City Commissioner Walt Gutowski, who owns Swift Printing and voted in favor of putting the issue on the ballot, is directly and personally benefiting from the “yes” campaign. More than $6,500 has been spent with his company for campaign materials by those favoring passage of the tax increase.

New Poll Shows Grand Rapids Tax Increases Face Steep Climb and Land Bank Lacks Public Support

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance (KCTA) commissioned a survey with JD Consulting from June 1-3 which found that there is little support for the proposed tax increases in the city of Grand Rapids. In a phone survey of likely off-year election voters in the city of Grand Rapids, 52.4% of respondents opposed raising taxes to pay for increased funding of pools with only 26.8% support and 20.8% without an opinion. The results show that if city officials and supporters hope to pass the measure, they will have to significantly turn out their supporters, convince opponents, and most of those who are unsure. KCTA does not intend to take a position on the proposed tax increase.

In addition, KCTA sought to determine the support for the Kent County Land Bank Authority and its activities with citizens in Grand Rapids and two suburban cities. KCTA first asked the question, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement, Government should not offer what private businesses can provide?” 56.4% agreed that government should not and 43.6% disagreed and felt government should provide services in competition with private businesses. The second question asked if people supported the taxpayer-funded Land Bank acquiring properties directly from the city or if they should first go to auction and the highest bidder. The results were broken down separately for Grand Rapids, Walker, and Grandville. Support for the auction process in Grand Rapids was 47.4% versus 31.5% supporting direct acquisition by the KCLBA and 21.1% with no opinion. The cities of Walker and Grandville had similar results with 73% and 75% support for the auctions respectively versus 24% and 22% for direct acquisition and 3% and 4% with no opinion.

The results of the polling on the Land Bank show a clear understanding from the people in those three cities to allow for an auction process and equal opportunity of acquiring property for everyone. The results did not specifically ask the question of whether the Land Bank served a vital role in the county. Said KCTA spokesman Eric Larson, “The polling results tell us what we primarily already knew. People want a fair process to allow equal opportunity for the purchase of tax foreclosed property to allow small entrepreneurs, large developers, and non-profits to revitalize these lots. There is clearly very little concern from those outside of Grand Rapids of problems with undeveloped or foreclosed lots not being utilized in their communities. We have been very pleased with the restrictions that the county commission has put on the auction process with the Land Bank but are concerned still that cities like Grand Rapids could hand over property at minimum bid prices and end up hurting their bottom line since the property would not generate nearly as much tax revenue as it would if a private individual purchased it. Hopefully, cities and townships will be at least very judicious in handing over real estate to the Land Bank.”

KCTA to Oppose Wyoming Public Schools’ August Abusive Tax Election

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance today announced that it will oppose Wyoming Public Schools’ abusive tax election in August of this year. The Wyoming Schools’ millage increase attempt on May 7th was defeated at the polls, yet the school district will attempt to get voters to pass the very same tax increase in August of this year.

Such rapid-fire elections, scheduled in an attempt to get voters to pass an issue that was already defeated, are a waste of taxpayer dollars and are referred to by KCTA as abusive elections.

“Wyoming Public Schools tried an abusive election in 2011, when their attempt at a tax increase failed in May of that year,” said Jeff Steinport, spokesperson for KCTA. “The district returned to voters in August of the same year, just three months later, and it was defeated even more resoundingly. (58-42% and then 63-37%)”

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance successfully engaged in a get out the vote effort for the August 2011 election in Wyoming to inform voters of the school district’s abusive election tactics.

Wyoming Public Schools’ superintendent Thomas Reeder is quoted as saying that he wants true representation of the public at the next election. “This begs the question,” said Steinport, “If the district’s leadership wants maximum participation by the public, it should have chosen November, for its tax increase election in the first place.

“If the government school leaders were honest, they would recognize the folly of their argument. Godfrey Lee Schools only had 6% turnout, were those positive results invalid? And if the Wyoming millage question had passed, would the board have voted to re-ask the question with only 11% turnout? The decision by the school board to rerun the election shows a total disregard and almost contempt for those who took the time to vote. They are clearly not interested in the democratic process.”

KCTA also successfully fought an abusive tax election held by Grand Rapids Community College in August of 2007, just three months after the same tax issue was defeated in May of that year.

Get Out the Vote Effort Organized to Oppose Wyoming School Millage

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, a local non-partisan taxpayer’s advocacy group, began its get-out-the-vote effort opposing the second attempt to pass a Wyoming School millage tax increase. The millage request for 0.5 mils assessed for ten years in a sinking fund is identical to the request put before the voters on May 3rd of this year.

KCTA did not oppose the millage in May but will work to defeat the request on its second attempt this August 2nd.  Said KCTA spokesman Eric Larson, “We are so disappointed in the actions of the Wyoming School Board to bring before the voters an identical tax increase request that voters soundly rejected by 16% only three months ago. Our mission is to promote transparency, government efficiency, and good governance. Asking the people of Wyoming, who pay some of the highest property taxes in Kent County, for a rejected tax increase again is a clear abuse of government power.

“We find it ludicrous that the school board chose to hold an election to re-request a tax increase that will cost the taxpayers over $9000 when those same voters definitively said ‘no’ in May. We believe no means no. Unfortunately, many government officials think no means maybe. In order to protect taxpayers we will begin an extensive get-out-the-vote effort before the election so that Wyoming citizens realize there is an election. We can only hope, if the measure fails again, the government will accept the will of the people after this election.”

KCTA Questions Second Wyoming School Millage Request

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, a local non-partisan taxpayer’s advocacy group, announced its disappointment in the Wyoming school district’s decision to ask for the same millage increase this August that failed in the recent May election. The Wyoming school district is asking for a 0.5 mill increase in property taxes for ten years in a proposal that failed on May 3rd by a 58-42% margin.

KCTA spokesman Eric Larson said, “Our disappointment and opposition to the Wyoming school district millage request is the same today as it was to Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC)’s request in 2007. After a narrow defeat in May of 2007, GRCC officials said the voters didn’t understand their tax request so they reran the millage only three months later. We helped defeat the GRCC millage then and we will seriously consider actively opposing this request. Ordinarily, we do not get involved in single municipality or school district millage requests but we may make an exception this time.”

“We are opposed to governments that continue asking the same question again and again until they get the result they want. Wyoming’s school officials should show respect for the voters and accept their defeat.”

“We find it insulting that the school officials insinuate the ‘no’ voters were voting against the bus millage and were unaware that the Wyoming school district question was a separate tax request. If the government believes you are intelligent enough to vote yes or no they need to accept the results.” Continued Larson, “Placing this issue on the ballot again is fiscally improper as a special election is being called in Wyoming to ask just this question. It is this sort of abuse of the taxpayers that we are committed to exposing and fighting.”

Earth Week Analysis Shows Rapid’s Buses Contribute More to Pollution than SUVs

In time for Earth Week, an analysis of the The Rapid’s 2009 services determined that the bus system contributed over seven millions pounds of extra carbon dioxide to the environment than would have been produced if all of The Rapid’s bus passengers had been transported in cars. This startling calculation, independently verified, shows that because of the low ridership on Rapid buses, combined with the low gas mileage of the Rapid’s large buses,The Rapid does not in any way reduce pollution.

In fact, the analysis shows that the buses produce even more carbon dioxide than people who use SUVs. The production of carbon dioxide with vehicles is entirely dependent with the amount of fuel consumed. The comparison is made by determining the average amount of fuel used to transport one passenger one mile and then comparing the different modes of transportation.

A senior fellow specializing in transportation policy at the Cato Institute, Randal O’Toole independently verified the calculations made by the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance. KCTA has been the lead opposition group to the upcoming May 3rd 31% bus tax increase. The group has gotten several prominent elected officials to oppose the millage including a Kentwood city commissioner, three county commissioners, and two local state legislators.

KCTA spokesman Eric Larson had this to say about the new findings, “One of the signature missions of a public transit system is to conserve resources and move people around town efficiently and quickly, while reducing pollution. The analysis today simply points out what we have been saying for months now: the buses are not full enough. Not only is it costly but it contributes to pollution and wastes fuel. Clearly, The Rapid fails to deliver these which is why we have been advocating a ‘no’ vote until they begin running the bus system sensibly.”

“Our analysis shows that their van service delivers on that promise to protect the environment,” continued Larson. “It consumes less fuel and moves people around town inexpensively. Unfortunately, the van service is a miniscule portion of The Rapid system. Instead, The Rapid touts its hybrid buses which are still worse than SUVs because their average fuel mileage is only 0.68 mpg better than the conventional buses. As stewards of tax dollars, we can only hope The Rapid takes an inward look at its operations and rethinks the way it operates.”

The Rapid’s buses produced 25,079,872 pounds of carbon dioxide annually which was 40% more than if the people had been transported using passenger cars. Had all of those riders instead used passenger cars or SUVs, they would have produced 17,754,939 and 18,360,146 pounds of carbon dioxide respectively. Part of the explanation for the large discrepancy is the fact that automobiles’ fuel efficiency has improved dramatically over the last forty years while bus efficiency has actually diminished.

To view the full report along with supporting calculations and links to source data, please see the posting at the ITP Watch web site.

Kent County Taxpayers Alliance Launches New “ITP Watch” Web Site

Today, the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance is launching a new project called ITP Watch. We aim to shine the light on the finances and operations of the Interurban Transit Partnership / The Rapid bus transit system. The ITP continues to lack transparency. ITP Watch will make available the information that ITP doesn’t want taxpayers to have access to: budgets, operational reports, and other data showing the lack of efficiency of The Rapid system.